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Relationship with the EU

This fact was correct when it was updated on 24 Sep 2020

What does a backstop mean?

Early in the Brexit talks, the UK and the EU committed to avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. The UK agreed that if an alternative solution could not be found it would remain aligned with EU single market and customs union rules to keep the border open and free of infrastructure. This commitment was what became termed the ‘backstop’. It became the most contentious issue in the Brexit talks, and led to Theresa May’s agreement being rejected three times by the House of Commons. In the end, the backstop became the ‘frontstop’ in Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement, with Northern Ireland having to continue to follow EU single market and customs union rules while the rest of the UK could diverge. This avoided a hard border but meant there would have to be checks on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Find out more – read our explainer on the origins of the Irish border.

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